Thursday, October 27, 2011

Are Black Immigrants To The USA African Americans?

Written by Azizi Powell

Editor: This post is an expansion of a comment that I added to Minor additions to this post were added for clarity on March 21, 2013.

I’m African American. My maternal grandparents were from Trinidad and Barbados-hence they were Black immigrants. Also, my mother told me that her grandmother was of Black/White descent. My mother was born in the United States as were two more of her siblings. Her other four siblings were born in Barbados but were raised in the United States. All of my uncles and my aunt consider/ed themselves to be African Americans. As it happened, my maternal granparents both had green cards and thus were permanent legal residents of the United States.However, they never became citizens of this country. I'm not sure whether or not my uncles who weren't born in the United States and who are now deceased ever became United States citizens.

My father was raised as a foster child in Michigan. He had rather light skin and it’s likely that he may have been of African American/White American ancestry. I don't know if I have any Southern relatives (Black or any other race). And I don't know if any of my paternal ancestors were enslaved. I repeat-I’m African American.

I know a number of Black people in the United States who were born and raised in the Caribbean, or in Canada, or in various African nations. Some of those Black people have married African Americans who were born in the United States, and some of them have children from those unions. Almost all of the children from those unions who I know (some of whom are teens and adults) think of themselves as African Americans. Furthermore, from what I have gathered, it certainly appears to me that those children are thought to be African Americans by other Black people and non-Black people since in the United States it is generally though that the visual clue skin color & other physical traits such as hair texture largely determines who is considered Black and these children who I know "look Black". I put "look Black" in parenthesis because everyone who considers himself or herself to be Black doesn't conform to what most people considers a Black person looks like.

Ditto all of the above for those Black Africans living in the United States who I know who have children. Some of those children were born outside of the United States and some of whom have children who were born within the United States. Are they African American? I would say so, but it's cool with me if they prefer to be called by their national or ethnic group referent. Actually, I don't think it's an either / or choice.

I also have met some Black people online who now live in the USA who were raised in Europe, Asia, or in South America. Although their cultures are different in many respects from each other and from most African Americans, these Black people-and other Black immigrants all have one thing in common with other African Americans-they face the possibility and indeed the probability of systemic racism, if not personal racism directed toward them because of the way they look,and/or because of the racial group that they consider themselves a part of. That makes all of us kin.

As to when a Black immigrant becomes African American is quite complicated and subject to multiple correct answers nowadays. I wrote nowadays because- besides for our Native Americans ancestors- ALL of the ancestors of African Americans were/are immigrants. Also, if you were to leave off the list of historically famous African Americans those persons who weren't born in the United States, that list would be considerably smaller.

As to whether or when a Black immigrant chooses to use the referent "African American", I believe that depends on the person. I certainly have no problem with people of any race/ethnicity preferring to be known by their nation or their ethnic group. But if Black people who make that choice don’t recognize the tie that binds all Black people together whether they want to be tied together or not, then it’s their loss.

To read a related blog post that I wrote on the word “ataka”, a derogatory Nigerian referent for African Americans, visit

To read another related pancocojams blog post, click The Changing Meaning of "European"

Here's a video that celebrates African culture:

Baaba Maal – Yela (Senegal)

Posted by BaabaMaalVEVO ; October 07, 2009

Here's a Caribbean song whose words & spirit I certainly can identify with as an African American:

Jimmy Cliff - "Many Rivers To Cross"

uploaded by houseofreggae; July 09, 2008

Live in Glastonbury 2003

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. All of the ancestors of African Americans are/were immigrants?? Were slaves immigrants? I think not; this is a very tired and false narrative that this is a country of immigrants; there is a big difference from immigrants who came willingly and those dragged here on slave ships for more than 200 years. Your ancestors may have not been slaves in the U.S., but I am sure they were slaves in the Caribbean. Knoweldge is power.

  2. cassva, first of all thank your for your comment. I apologize for taking so long to read your comment and respond.

    I don't have the citations to share with you & others at my fingertips, but I have read that some people of African descent were traveled to the USA to work or to study and were not ever enslaved. That said, I agree with you that my Black ancestors were probably descended from persons who were enslaved.

    And yes, I agree that knowlege is power.